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The Policy Racket

Deal reached to avoid federal government shutdown

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Alex Brandon / AP

Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks to the press with from left, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., and Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., on Capitol Hill Friday, April 8, 2011. Perilously close to a midnight deadline, the White House and congressional leaders have reached agreement to cut billions of dollars in spending to avoid the first government shutdown in 15 years.

Updated Saturday, April 9, 2011 | 2:22 a.m.

Government shutdown averted

KSNV coverage of last-minute budget deal in Congress to avoid government shutdown, April 8, 2011.

KSNV: Budget Battle

KSNV coverage of the possible government shutdown with the Sun's Karoun Demirjian.

Click to enlarge photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leaves the Senate floor on Capitol Hill after announcing an agreement to avoid a government shutdown Friday, April 8, 2011 in Washington.

It wasn’t all officially wrapped up until about 39 minutes after the midnight deadline, but Congress successfully averted a government shutdown in the waning hours of Friday night.

House and Senate leaders ended weeks of budget stalemate with a compromise representing the largest budget cut the country has seen.

The agreement slashes $78.5 billion off of the President’s fiscal 2011 request — $38.5 billion from current spending levels — starting with a prorated, six-day stopgap measure to keep the country running, minus about $2 billion, until Thursday, to give lawmakers time to ink the deal.

“It’s an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on behalf of all Americans that invests in our country while making the largest annual spending cut in our history,” President Barack Obama said minutes after the deal was announced.

He called it a “worthwhile compromise” that would nonetheless include “cuts that will be painful.”

“But beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect investments we need,” Obama said. “At the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts not social issues like women’s health and protecting our air and water.”

The familiar battle of politics vs. policy seemed all but certain to derail negotiations earlier Friday as Democrats and Republicans traded barbs. Each side accused the other of pitching the country closer to a government shutdown by not getting what the negotiations were supposed to be about.

“There is only one reason we don’t have an agreement as yet, and that reason is spending,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Friday morning. “We are close to a resolution on the policy issues, but I think the American people deserve to know when will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting spending?”

Democrats countered that it wasn’t about spending — that they’d even agreed to a number — but about Republican insistence on policy riders, especially one: de-funding Title X based women’s health services.

The services include those provided through Planned Parenthood clinics, which provide abortion services, even though 97 percent of the work they do is related to women’s preventative health.

The issue, nonetheless, became red meat for anti-abortion Republicans and increased Democrats’ frustration.

“They are willing to throw women under the bus, even if it means they’ll shut down the government,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday morning. “With a government shutdown looming not weeks away or days away but just hours away, why are we talking about whether women can keep getting something as simple and as non-controversial as cancer screenings?”

But by late Friday, insults and accusations had turned into commendations on a compromise well done, with the realization that even with this bill nearly completed, budget problems are far from over.

“We fought to keep government spending down, because it really will affect and help the environment for job creators in our country,” Boehner said.

“We didn’t do it at this late hour for drama. We did it because it’s been a very hard process to arrive at this point,” Reid said, thanking Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for their efforts. “This is historic what we’ve done. But we have a lot of work to do.”

That includes what lies ahead as appropriators and leaders officially ink a deal Congress can approve.

So far, Congress’ support for the first stage of the agreement — the short-term funding measure that dips about $2 billion below present thresholds — was overwhelming, despite several die-hard Republican Tea Party affiliates and even more professedly liberal Democrats’ refusal to vote for the agreement in the House, where the count was 348-70.

As things unfold, more might fall away.

Nevada’s full delegation voted in favor of the stopgap measure Friday night or, in the case of Nevada Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who had warned Democratic leadership she would be out of town honoring a family commitment Friday night, would have, she said.

Sen. Reid and John Ensign, R-Nev., cast their positive votes by inclusion in the unanimous consent agreement to approve the bill in the Senate.

But at least one member didn’t sound too optimistic about the final deal.

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President Obama poses for photographers in the Blue Room at the White House in Washington after he spoke regarding the budget and averted government shutdown after a deal was made between Republican and Democrat lawmakers, Friday, April 8, 2011.

“I am pleased that this short-term measure was made so our troops will continue to receive their pay checks,” said Nevada Rep. Dean Heller said in a statement. “In the next few days I plan to closely examine budget deal.”

That’s not exactly the tone the other Republican members of the Nevada delegation struck.

“What we’ve got is a deal in concept that still needs to be drafted...but that will hopefully pass with a supermajority,” Nevada Republican Rep. Joe Heck said. “I’m pleased that we finally got it done and that we won’t be shutting down the government. We’re reducing spending by historic amounts...We can turn our attention to the fiscal year 2012 budget, where the cuts will be measures in trillions, not billions.”

Ensign said that “in the eleventh hour, partisan politics were set aside for the good of the country. However, even with what appears to be an acceptable budget deal, a lot remains to be done to get our fiscal house in order.”

If it seems like their tone on the conclusion of the agreement diverged, it should be noted that so was their approach to one.

Heck and Ensign had both sided with House Republican leadership on approving a three-week continuing resolution in mid-March that Heller rejected. Heck and Ensign also each called on their Republican counterparts to drop any insistence on policy riders in the hours and days before the deal was finally struck.

Democrats, it appears, eventually won the most ground on those riders, meaning most are not part of the final deal.

Efforts to remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to set climate-change rules and keep money away from National Public Radio were abandoned during the negotiations, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Title X funding remains untouched as well. But that came at a bartering cost. To preserve Title X funding, Obama had to toss the Republicans the offer of preventing local tax revenues in Washington, D.C., from being used for abortions in the District.

“It was D.C. abortion and Title X, and he said, ‘John, I will give you D.C. abortion,’” a senior Democratic aide said of the president’s actions in the Oval Office Thursday night.

When Boehner tried to engage Obama on cutting Title X funding, the president simply said, “Nope, zero. John, this is it,” according to the senior Democratic aide.

Abortion is only one of the areas where Washington, D.C., it appears, became the horse trade for the rest of the nation.

The president also relinquished Capitol ground to Boehner on the issue of school vouchers, of which Republicans have been a strong champion.

“I think the Republicans used the riders very effectively to get what they wanted,” said Berkley, who applauded the final agreement, even though she said that Democrats met the Republicans “far more than halfway.”

Berkley said she would have voted for the deal if she had been in town, and absent any major surprises on content, she expects to vote for the full legislation.

“Using the family planning issue to hold up the negotiations that could have ultimately ended in closing the government is ridiculous. I hope they don’t continue to use this,” she said.

The cuts the House and Senate agreed to late Friday night will include reductions across all agencies, including the Department of Defense, which is coming in at about $2 billion less than House Republican leaders envisioned things in their budget bill, H.R. 1.

A senior aide also seemed to think that there could be some difficulty down the line around transportation funding, where negotiators stripped $2.5 billion of federal money that had been authorized by the committee but not yet obligated or spent.

But for now, both sides are claiming a political victory and pledging to look ahead to fiscal 2012, where, judging from the difference in budget proposals already out there for public consumption, far more political pitfalls await.

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